Nomhlangano Beauty Mkhize was born on 12 April 1940 in Sophiatown, Transvaal Province (now Gauteng). Her family’s forced removal from Sophiatown to Meadowlands in Soweto, Transvaal, at the hands of the apartheid government’s 1954 Natives Resettlement Act sowed a seed of resistance in the young Mkhize, marking the beginning of a life defined by the fight against forced removals, resolute advocacy for the improvement of the conditions under which women in rural areas were forced to live, and the liberation struggle.
From 1965, Mkhize worked in a textile factory and served as a shop steward. She married Saul Mkhize, a fellow activist, and in 1980, the couple moved to Driefontein, Eastern Transvaal (now Mpumalanga), where the community was being threatened to be forcefully removed from their legally-owned land. This was despite the fact that both the Driefontein and Daggakraal farms were bought by the South African Native Farmers’ Association (SANFA) in 1912, just prior to the infamous Land Act of 1913, through the help of Pixley ka Isaka Seme – a founding member of the South African Native National Congress (SANNC – later renamed the African National Congress – ANC – in 1923) and its first treasurer general.
Nonetheless, in 1975, the apartheid government signalled its intention to remove the people of Driefontein and resettle them in various places across the provinces according to their ethnic background. However, this was shelved until 1983; Driefontein was regarded as a Black Spot and the people had to be removed, even though they held title deeds to the land.
Mkhize and her husband were both actively involved in the campaign against the forced removals, helping the community to contact lawyers through the Black Sash in Johannesburg, Transvaal (now Gauteng). Her husband was elected chairperson of the Driefontein Council Board of Directors, replacing a predecessor who had surrendered to the removal.
As the resistance grew, the Mkhizes became a bigger target for the apartheid government. On 2 April 1983, during a Forced Removal Committee meeting in Driefontein, her husband was shot and killed by a police officer for his anti-removal campaigning. As a result, Mkhize was elected to step into his place on the Board.
Her husband’s brutal murder was not the only method of intimidation that was used by the police. Mkhize also had to endure her son being assaulted by nine men because of his parents’ resistance. Not one to back down, Mkhize continued the fight, despite the constant threat of removal, divisions within the community, and intimidation from apartheid authorities. She persisted in mobilising the community and in 1987, after constant opposition and numerous engagements with the authorities, her efforts finally paid off and the government relented.
In addition to her activities against forced removals, Mkhize hid political activists who were on the run from the authorities, providing them a place to stay before they could leave the country secretly.
In post-apartheid South Africa, Mkhize has continued to serve her community. From 1994 to 2005, she served in the Mpumalanga Provincial Legislature as sergeant-at-arms for two terms. Furthermore, She was actively involved in the Transvaal Rural Action Committee(TRAC), and would later be elected chairperson of the Rural Women’s Movement (RWM), an organisation focused on issues that specifically affect women in rural areas. Through their collective work with the Black Sash and the Legal Resource Centre (LRC), Mkhize and her colleagues managed to expand the RWM to other areas which now include Mpumalanga, KwaZulu-Natal, Northern Cape, and North West Province.
Mkhize has also served as an active ANC Women’s League (ANCWL) member serving on the committee responsible for parliamentary candidates’ provincial listings, as the deputy chairperson of the Masibuyele Emasimini Project in Driefontein – a project that promotes farming, as well as the chairperson of the National Movement of Rural Women (NMRW).
In light of her contributions, Mkhize was presented with a Service Excellence Award in recognition of her service to the people of Driefontein and her service in the legislation by then-Premier Ndaweni Mahlangu in August 2000. On 27 March 2009, then-President Kgalema Motlanthe awarded Mkhize the National Order of Luthuli in Bronze – one of the country’s highest and most prestigious awards conferred to individuals. She was bestowed this award for her exceptional contribution to the fight for workers’ rights as well as equality for all citizens.
Mkhize devoted herself to the advancement of the struggle for freedom and democracy, particularly in rural areas. A true heroine in every sense of the word, it was thanks to her efforts and relentless dedication that the people of Driefontein won their battle against the government’s plans to forcefully remove them from their homes.
- Kompe, L., Small, J., and Mkhize. B. (eds.). (1994). The Rural Women’s Movement: Holding the knife on the sharp end. [online]. Available at: http://www.historicalpapers.wits.ac.za/inventories/inv_pdfo/A3299/A3299-B3-3-18-001-jpeg.pdf. (Accessed on 03 June 2021)
- The Presidency. (n.d.). Nomhlangano Beauty Mkhize (1940-). [online]. Available at: http://www.thepresidency.gov.za/national-orders/recipient/nomhlangano-beauty-mkhize-1940. (Accessed on 02 June 2021)